Empowering children to sing: achieving success with the cornerstone of the Kodály approach

Empowering children to sing. Games to help children explore their voices

In the last blog post (catch-up here), we talked about the qualities of speaking and singing and what the differences are.  To help our students learn the difference between their speaking and singing voices they need to feel free and able to experiment with their voices.  So how do we give them confidence and encouragement to experience their voice types?

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, visiting music teacher or 1:1 instrumental teacher, this blog will give you tips and ideas for experiencing voice types in a Kodály inspired way.

We’ll explore:

  • What is the difference between a child’s and an adult’s voice?
  • How can we help our students feel the difference between speaking and singing?
  • Practical ideas and games for experiencing voice types

What is the difference between children’s and adults’ voices and how does this impact on teaching?

Adults have lower speaking voices than their singing voices and thicker vocal folds.  When adults sing they make higher sounds by making their vocal folds thinner.   Children speak with a higher pitch.  They have tiny larynxes compared to adults; their vocal folds are much smaller and thinner and consequently they have a much smaller range.  When they start school at age 4 to 5 their vocal range is around D to B above middle C.  This means that when they’re speaking and singing, they’re using the same range and the same voice.  Therefore, when we ask them to determine the difference between their speaking and singing voice, physically there isn’t much difference.   

From around the age of 6, children’s voices start to change.  Their range starts to extend and they can play around with their voice to make different sounds.  Their range extends to B below middle C and the second D above middle C.  Some children have quite low voices too! Their speaking voices are low and they cannot take their voice much higher without shouting and belting. 

All of this information is important because we want our students to sing more softly to produce a blended sound for choral singing and this cannot be done without higher pitches and a thinner sound. 

How to work with our students’ voices

Try this exercise to further understand the way our voices work:

Using your speaking voice, slide up on an “aahhh” sound.  You should hear and feel your voice flip in the middle as it reaches the break point and your voice goes from a thick to a thinner sound. 

As adults we learn how to access these two different ways of using our voice and how to smooth out the gap or flip in the middle.  We can warm up the voice so to enable transition from an “aahhh” at the bottom with a thicker sound and slide into a thinner sound at the top without anyone hearing the change. 

As described above, children don’t yet have the range to be able to determine the difference between these two voices, but they can still play around with their voices and they can definitely listen to us do different things with our voices.  The key point is that they are given opportunity to experience that in a rhyme the speaker determines the pitch and there is a definite melody in a rhyme, whereas a song as a definite melody.   

Activities for preparing to sing

We need to prepare our students to sing so later we can work on melody, high and low, pitch recognition, solfa, dictation, sight singing….as you can see there so much it leads on to, decent preparation of the voice is vital.


The students can play around with vocalisations that focus on vowel sounds and we discovered in the last blog post that singing has a greater vowel to consonant ratio and a focus on resonance.  Long vowel sounds like, “ooooo”, “eeeeee” and “aayyyy” are helpful.  If we were working with adults or teenagers, we could just ask them to make those vocal sounds and they will be occupied enough but we need it to be much more engaging for young children!  This is why I came up with my Balloons warm-up.  If you’d like to find out more about it, take a look here.

Other ideas include, rollercoaster games where the voice follows the movement of the rollercoaster, active listening, flying a bee around the room and buzzing to match the up and down movement the bee makes.

Tell a story with higher pitches or silly sounds

You could tell a story about going to the park and going down a slide, for example.  You can also read a book to them and use different voices for the characters or change your voice with inflection.  Up Up Down by Robert Munch is fantastic for raising the pitch of your voice when it goes “up up up…”. You can also use puppets and give them different voices and progress to asking the children to identify the which hiding puppet is speaking.  Do make sure that the voices you use are within the children’s vocal range so they can echo.

Introduce a mixture of rhymes and songs

Since we’ve established it’s so important to understand the difference between speaking and singing voice, we know that giving our students a wide experience of going between the two voice types is very important.  Singing the songs together also means they can hear themselves and the people next to them and be influenced by the sound their classmates make. 

Examples of singing games with different voices include:

Jelly on a Plate

Zoom Zoom Zoom

We Are Dancing in the Forest

(p.s. click the titles to listen to them for game ideas in my free podcasts)

Solo Singing

They can practice using their own voice and you can assess them and how well they’re singing, or not at all!  We need to trick them into singing on their own!  It’s not nice to put them on the spot but the singing games below mean that they readily join in – rather than being put on the spot, they’re playing the game or being a character in the song.

Witch Witch


Tap Tap Tap

Lemonade – this is a trickier one because the soloist is the lemonade seller at the start of the song but they love being the lemonade seller!

(p.s. again!  I have put more links in the titles so you can find out more!)

Bonus tip #1: try to choose an appropriate pitch for singing.  Since their speaking voice will be around the bottom of their range, match their speaking voice and raise it slightly for singing.  When they’re older you could also get them to sing a couple of steps lower than their speaking voice.

Bonus tip #2: Another great way to find out their normal speaking pitch is to ask them to count backwards from 10. Don’t tell them the reason why and you’ll find they reach their natural speaking pitch at around 4, 3, 2.  Find that pitch on the piano (for example) and that’s where they can start singing.

Achieving Success

Having some knowledge about the way children’s voices develop and what they are physically capable is essential to help facilitate the children to experiment with and discover their voices.  This allows us to ensure that the vocal range and complexity for our songs is appropriate.  Obviously we want our students to succeed, using overly complex songs or songs that are not in the appropriate range means we cannot monitor whether they are succeeding or they don’t feel like they’re succeeding and feel negative about the whole situation. 

The ideas above are great age appropriate materials that the children will love and gain a good solid foundation for building other skills including, melody, high and low, pitch recognition, solfa, dictation, sight singing.

Want more advice and ideas?

If you found this blog useful.  Please comment below if you did or if there is anything you would like to say to me about it.  If you’d like to find out more about preparing your students to sing and much more, including over a year’s worth of lesson plans for teaching all the important musical skills with Helen’s clear microsteps, why not try out Doremi Membership for 14 days for just £1

Ready to teach engaging, effective and stress-free piano and music lessons with the Kodály Approach, without becoming overwhelmed by planning?

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